The Kansas attorney general has gone to the Legislature with a large tin cup, asking for another $1.2 million to defend potential legal challenges to laws enacted this year.
The attorney general is one of four constitutional officers in Kansas. The others are the governor, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state. The constitution provides that each “shall have such qualifications as are provided by law.” Guess what? No qualifications are provided by law for the attorney general. That’s right. Although the AG is the state’s chief legal and law enforcement official, and is responsible for consumer protection, helping crime victims, defending the state in civil lawsuits, giving legal counsel to state agencies and boards, and generally making sure state government operations conform to the constitution and statutes, apparently anybody can hold the office.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt is an attorney, a graduate of Georgetown University School of Law, but he apparently is concerned about the ability of his staff attorneys to handle all the work they expect to come their way, so Kansas’ chief legal official is asking $1.2 million to hire outside lawyers.
No lawsuits have been filed yet challenging the laws in question. (They include a wide-ranging anti-abortion measure that says life begins “at fertilization” and a pro-gun measure that makes it a felony for a federal agent to attempt to regulate firearms, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. Other potential targets are a law that will require drug-testing for some public assistance recipients and one prohibiting public employee unions from automatically deducting money from members’ paychecks to finance political activities.)
The AG’s office is asking for $500,000 to defend the anti-abortion law. The office already has spent $759,000 on outside attorneys defending previously enacted abortion laws. It’s also asking for $225,000 to defend the gun law, and for $250,000 each to stand up for the paycheck deduction law and the drug-testing law.
Critics of the measures noted that warnings about expensive legal challenges were raised during hearings on the legislation.
If these challenges can’t be handled by the AG’s staff, perhaps at least it would be prudent to wait and seek a supplemental appropriation if and when lawsuits are filed. Maybe by then it will be clear where that money might come from. Revenue figures released last week show that the state will receive $5.454 billion in tax revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1 — a decrease of $745 million from the estimated $6.199 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The AG’s $1.2 million request is a relative drop in the bucket compared with the $745 million funding gap, but it’s still discouraging to see state dollars being requested to hire outside attorneys to defend legal challenges the AG’s office warned certain legislative actions would face, and perhaps fail. What’s next?